Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
State prosecutors dropped charges against a teenager accused of killing a mail carrier in a West Side neighborhood on Monday afternoon, and the case now rests in the hands of federal authorities.
Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Michael Patrick said Xavier Zamora will be tried in U.S. District Court in the slaying of 47-year-old Jose “Pepe” Hernandez, a longtime mail carrier, after his case was dismissed in state court Thursday.
“We work closely with our federal law enforcement partners, especially in cases where a crime involves the use of a gun in our community,” Patrick said. “This is a tragic incident which ended in the death of a federal employee, and we agreed to transfer the case to the United States Attorney’s Office for prosecution.”
Police say Hernandez was on his postal route Monday when he tried to defuse an argument between Zamora and his mother outside their home in the 700 block of Terracotta SW, near Tower and 98th Street. When Zamora “became aggressive” Hernandez pepper-sprayed the teen.
Police say that’s when Zamora got a gun from inside the house and shot Hernandez, who died at the scene.
Zamora was arrested late Wednesday night by Albuquerque police and U.S. Postal Inspection Service officers after a two-day search for the youth.
Now that Zamora’s prosecution is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office – and because he is a juvenile – there’s no guarantee the public will ever find out whether he is convicted, or the sentence imposed. Zamora turned 17 earlier this month.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office asked 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez’s office on Thursday to drop the open murder count charged in state court two days earlier to permit the federal prosecution, given that the victim was a federal employee. It is unclear what federal charges Zamora will face.
Asked Thursday about the pending prosecution, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Elizabeth Martinez told the Journal in an email: “In the federal judicial system, juvenile delinquency proceedings are sealed and are safeguarded from disclosure from unauthorized persons, including the media. The U.S. Attorney’s Office therefore respectfully declines to respond to your inquiry.”
Martinez added that because of the “confidential nature of federal juvenile delinquency proceedings, I have deleted identifiers from your email in my response.”
Federal law permits prosecutors to seek permission in U.S. District Court to try a juvenile as an adult, in certain conditions. If that occurs, the proceedings would be public like any other criminal case.
But federal law asks that the federal judge considering the transfer request to consider certain factors, including a juvenile’s prior delinquency record.
Asked Thursday about Zamora’s prior criminal history, Sidney Hill, spokesman for the 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque, told the Journal it doesn’t appear that Zamora has a prior delinquency or criminal record as a juvenile.
“We have completed our search,” Hill said. “There are no juvenile court records for Mr. Zamora.”
Asked whether U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson would request that Zamora be tried as an adult, Martinez replied in an email, “All proceedings are sealed.”
A friend of the Hernandez family, Melissa Brown, said Thursday that the family is relieved Zamora has been caught.
“They hope for a resolution in the justice system proportionate to his horrible and extreme act of violence so that no other family has to go through the pain and devastation of losing a loved one that they are currently suffering,” Brown said.